Lewis Hamilton picked up where he left off in France by completing a practice double for the Austrian Grand Prix.
Hamilton is back in charge of the championship, and he was fastest in both sessions at Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring on Friday.
The British driver, who is 14 points clear of Sebastian Vettel following his win at the Paul Ricard Circuit last weekend, finished clear of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas on a dominant day for the world champions.
Vettel placed third for Ferrari, two tenths of a second adrift of Hamilton, with the Red Bull duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen fourth and fifth.
Mercedes have brought a heavily-updated car with them to the second instalment of F1’s triple header, and it had the desired effect.
Hamilton set a best time of one minute and 04.579 seconds, only marginally slower than last year’s pole positon lap, with Bottas not far behind.
Hamilton also posted his quickest effort on the hardest tyre compound available to the teams this weekend to suggest there is more time to come.
Mercedes have not lost a race in Austria since the grand prix returned here in 2014. Indeed, Hamilton and team-mate Bottas, who triumphed last year, are the only active drivers to have won at the Red Bull Ring.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said: “I’m happy with how today went. Austria has been a kind track on us in the past.
“But you can see that there are three teams capable of putting the car on the front row. There are just a few hundredths or tenths between us. I have no doubt that tomorrow in qualifying that story will continue.”
For Vettel, who will be seeking to avenge his first-corner crash with Bottas in France, there is work to do.
The same can also be said for McLaren and their star driver Fernando Alonso. His floor had to be replaced after he ran over the kerbs and he finished a dismal 19th of the 20 runners.
The session was also red-flagged when Pierre Gasly crashed out. The Frenchman lost control of his Toro Rosso at the penultimate corner, braking his suspension, and ending up beached in the gravel.
Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and the rest of Formula One’s elite drivers have descended on Spielberg for the Austria Grand Prix this weekend.
Ahead of Sunday’s race, we look back at five dramatic moments in Austria.
The entire field was caught up in the drama at Osterreichring. Two time world champion Niki Lauda had made a comeback with McLaren and was battling against reigning champion Nelson Piquet. The Austrian lost pace in the closing stages of the race, but Piquet hesitated as he closed in for the lead, thinking Lauda had tactically held back. The problem proved to be temporary though and soon Lauda regained speed and went on to secure his 23rd career victory. At the end of the season, he won the world title by half a point, the narrowest margin in history.
Organisers must have wondered if they’d ever get the race underway at the original Osterreichring. It began with a collision between Stefan Johansson and a deer. Martin Brundle then lost control and hit the barriers, his car ricocheting back on to the track and into the incoming traffic. The race was red-flagged, only for Nigel Mansell to kick start a bigger incident, with more than 10 cars involved. It took nearly two hours for the race to resume after the original start time, with Mansell going on to clinch his third win of the season for Williams.
Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya enjoyed some titanic battles on track during the five seasons they raced against each other. And perhaps one of the best remembered was in 2001. Schumacher attempted to overtake Montoya but the Colombian outbraked himself, resulting in both drivers running off the track. Rubens Barrichello soared into the lead, leaving both Montoya and Schumacher falling further down the field. Schumacher fought his way back to second, while Montoya was forced to retire due to hydraulic failure.
It was another thrilling championship battle between Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen. But it was Barrichello who shone at Spielberg, showing composure to lead until the final lap until he was ordered to allow his Ferrari teammate Schumacher to overtake him and win the race. The Italian outfit wanted their marquee man to win the race and collect maximum points for the Drivers Championship. The Brazilian let Schumacher pass him on the final lap – for the second year in a row. The German went on to win his third successive title that year.
Former world champions Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso were eliminated after the first lap in the 2015 edition of the race. Raikkonen lost control of his Ferrari on turn two and collided with Alonso. The two came against the barrier, with Alonso on top of the Ferrari. Both drivers walked away unharmed from the incident. “I don’t know exactly what happened,” said Raikkonen after the race. “I had some wheelspin in an unusual place. I was at a quite high speed, suddenly went left and end up there…”
Alonso is out of contract at the end of the season and McLaren have put together a contingency plan if they cannot persuade the Spaniard to stay.
Press Association Sport understands that Ferrari’s Raikkonen, who won nine races and twice finished as a runner-up in the championship for the Woking team between 2002 and 2006, is on their shortlist.
Raikkonen, 38, may be surplus to requirements by Ferrari at the end of the year if the Scuderia choose to hire the highly-regarded rookie Charles Leclerc, who again impressed for Sauber at last weekend’s French Grand Prix.
McLaren’s British teenage reserve driver Lando Norris is believed to be edging closer to a full-time seat next year, and the team want him to join Alonso.
But Alonso, 36, is considering his options and may choose to turn his back on the sport. Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull are not interested in signing the Spaniard, which would make a move to another F1 team appear highly unlikely.
If Alonso leaves McLaren, it is understood that the British team would like an experienced, and marketable driver to partner Norris, 18, and after a bold swoop for Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, Raikkonen is an option to fill that void.
McLaren would be able to afford Raikkonen’s £10million-a year wages, and a switch back to his former team might appeal to the veteran Finnish driver, who is effectively Sebastian Vettel‘s number two at Ferrari.
Raikkonen, who has competed in 281 grands prix and clinched the world championship for Ferrari in 2007, has not won a race in more than five years. He is fifth in the championship, 48 points behind Vettel.
A McLaren spokesperson told Press Association Sport: “We don’t discuss driver matters.”
Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne, who is in his second season at McLaren after he replaced Jenson Button, could be the fall guy. Vandoorne, 26, has been out-qualified by Alonso at every race this season.
Alonso called McLaren’s display in France last week the team’s worst of the year. He retired with a suspension problem on the penultimate lap after qualifying only 16th.
Alonso is in the fourth season of his second stint at McLaren, but despite promises of improvement following their switch from Honda to Renault engines, they are falling back down the grid.
He took aim at McLaren over the radio in last Sunday’s race.
“I have no tyres, no brakes, and I am out of the points,” he said. “I am trying to do whatever. I don’t care too much.”
He added afterwards: “This was by far the worst performance of the year. I really hope it is a one-off and not the normality.”
Alonso will be back in action at Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix, the second installment of F1’s first triple-header, with Silverstone to follow next weekend.